Namita Gokhal’s new novel is an autopsy of the famous joint Indian family in times of epidemic

Hardest hit in the nearly two years of the coronavirus pandemic has been the elderly population, both in India and abroad. Companies favored young recruits over the elderly and care homes provided disturbing news during the height of the health emergency. Many countries have even considered it prudent to save the life of a younger Covid-19 patient over the life of an elderly citizen. In such troubled times for seniors, Namita Gokhal’s new novel looks at Indian society paralyzed by an epidemic through the eyes of a blind elderly woman.

blind mother, which follows Gokhale’s hilarious novel about the Jaipur Festival of Literature which she helps run (Jaipur magazines), is a delicate portrait of a joint family weakened by the pandemic. Set in the four floors of a family home inspired by Lawrie Baker, the novel also tells of neighborhoods and the nation under tremendous pressure from the virus and social vulnerabilities. Gokhal, who also published a play (Khana Hope) about the life of poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt last year, uses a small painting of a large family to focus on the bigger picture of the pandemic and life.

Matangi Ma is a mother who belongs to a middle class family. Confined to her home by blindness, she lives with her home helper Lali upstairs in the family’s home when an epidemic spreads. Her daughter Shanti and her assistant Munni, a social activist, send her and Lali meals every day. Her two sons – Suryavir and Satish – occupy the other two floors. Suryavir lives with his adopted son Sameer and Satish with his wife Ritika and young son Rahul. The pandemic soon exposed fault lines in the family with tensions keeping everyone on edge.

Although she cannot see, Matangi-ma, a widow, brings the family together during difficult times. She was physically abused for a long time during their marriage by her estranged husband, an Indian Revenue Service officer, and she is silently traumatized long after his death. She can sense the tension between the kids creeping through the concrete. Her love of classical music and her descendants help Matangi-Ma negotiate her own battle with blindness and disease.

Gokhale brings the impact of the deadly virus on ordinary people to the fore through Matangi-Ma and her family blind mother. There are glimpses of the devastating impact of the pandemic and lockdown on the poor even as wealthy neighborhoods clap and strike pots and pans from their balconies to encourage health workers. While the Prime Minister comes on TV to address a fearful people, Matangi Ma is unable to conjure up the image of the leader. In her neighborhood, an elderly couple is kidnapped by men disguised as health workers to steal their belongings.

blind motherMatangi – symbolizing a nation blinded by its own centuries-old social division. Gokhale does not hold back when she addresses the failures of contemporary society rooted in fear and suspicion. Matangi’s help doesn’t force Lali to hide the name of her nephew whom she brings to work. The boy says Riaz his name is Babu. Samir’s deceased parents, Surevir’s adopted son, were described as communists who worked among the tribes in Bastar, Chhattisgarh. All the female characters in the novel are strong individuals who fight to survive their ordeal. The author pulls no punches for delivering a knockout act that can make many see the fissures in a society they often turn a blind eye to.

Faisal Khan works as a freelancer

blind mother
Namita Gokhale
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